Monday, March 8, 2010

Book Review

What a long time since my last blog post!  My energies have been focused on business, and on my Sister Blog, Sonoma Freelance.  However, I am returning to the blog to report on a wonderful book that has stimulated a lot of thought of late, particularly in my thinking about some food and wine pairing events I’m planning (about which, stay tuned for future posts).

Mock Turtle gave me this lovely gift (thanks again, MT!), and I’ve really been enjoying reading through it.  It’s What to Drink with What you Eat, by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page (New York: Bulfinch Press, 2006).  This fascinating and beautiful book (absolutely stunning photos) contains a vast wealth of information on food and beverage pairings, incorporating contributions from sommeliers and restauranteurs from across the country. 

There is a very useful chapter called “Food and Beverage Pairing 101” that lists very practical considerations to help the reader analyze various wine and food characteristics that help inform pairing decisions.  Fascinatingly fun are the encyclopedic chapters called “What to Drink with What you Eat,” and “What to Eat with What you Drink.”  Each is comprised of an alphabetical list of foods and beverages, respectively, and the beverages – or foods -  that might compliment each.  Ever wonder what to drink with, say, celery?  Sauvignon Blanc, apparently!  Or tortillas?  Chardonnay, especially from New Zealand!  Naturally, the lists of possible beverages for certain foods are quite long; the list for oysters, for example, goes on for pages.  These chapters also include interesting quotes from chefs and sommeliers, and even the occasional delicious sounding recipe.

The last two chapters may be the most fun of all.  "At the Table with the Experts" contains descriptions from famous chefs of their restaurant pairing menus and the strategy that went into them.  Last is the fabulous “Desert Island Lists” of leading experts who were asked the question, what 12 bottles would they take with them to the proverbial desert island.  Their comments - and lists - are highly entertaining!

I’m going to be studying this book for some time to come, but here is a thought which I found so arresting, I had to bounce it off Bon Vivant after her fabulous Michael Chiarello inspired "Wines of the World" dinner party over the weekend.  One of the sommeliers interviewed states that it’s more important to match a wine to a person than it is to match a wine to the food.  Creating a memorable food and wine experience for others isn’t about displaying your own knowledge; it’s about making your guests happy.  There is a huge emotional component to enjoyment of dining experiences that might be colored by one’s comfort level with particular varietals or styles, or any number of other things.  If we ignore that emotional component and focus just upon the “science” of what pairs best with what, we may fail to create the enjoyment we’re aiming for.  The sommelier went on to give the example of a customer who really wanted a big, bold red wine because that was his idea of the best wine in the world.  So the sommelier served him the monster Cabernet with the caviar first course (Bon Vivant and I were appropriately aghast), and the sommelier kept his own preferences to himself.  Because it’s about making the guests or customers happy, not about imposing wine pairing rules on them.

This resonates with my belief that successful entertaining is not merely, or even primarily, about preparing the perfect food and pouring the perfect wine, even though we strive for that.  It is about creating the perfectly magical, memorable dining experience, the laughter and conversation and sharing and joy that can come from sharing a great meal with others.  And creating that experience is my goal when I entertain.

(Nevertheless, take note friends: there will be no big Cabernets served with caviar at my parties.  Just sayin’ . . . .)


Bon Vivant said...

Next time that I make you caviar torte I'm going to serve it with a Martinelli Zin (over 17% alcohol!)

Fun with food and wine pairings!

I'm curious to know what you are going to think about the Liparita Cab; this is one Cab that I think can be paired with "atypical" foods.

Daphne said...

BV, thanks for the comment! You can serve me any wine you want with your fabulous caviar torte, my dear. And yes, when we taste the Liparta Cab, we'll see if we can imagine drinking it with caviar!

Margaret Marcuson said...

I've had this book for a year or so, and I love it. I'm not much of a wine expert, and it really is nice to have a resource to go to for guidance. Plus it's fun just flipping through the pages. And I like that it includes beverages other than wine.

Daphne said...

Margaret, thanks for the comment! I'm delighted to have a fellow "fan" of this beautiful book!